ACLU, other groups, urge parents to cancel ‘Elf on a Shelf’ tradition, immediately

The American Civil Liberties Union is recommending to parents that they ditch the annual “Elf on the Shelf” tradition because the legal org says it lends itself to the normalization of a big government “surveillance state.”

The concept, which is based on a 2005 children’s book, involves a toy elf that takes messages back to Santa Claus at the North Pole. Families have since incorporated “Elf on the Shelf” as part of their holiday tradition. Parents tell their kids that the elf magically comes to life each night between Thanksgiving and Christmas to inform Santa whether children are behaving before returning to the home in a different spot in the house than the previous night. Kids are told not to touch the elf or it loses its magic abilities.

But all of that amounts to some nefarious activity, as far as the ACLU and other privacy and civil rights groups are concerned. They claim the elves are creepy, invasive, and even dangerous, so they are suggesting to parents that the toys should “be left on store shelves.”

“I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but we shouldn’t be celebrating seasonal surveillance,” Albert Fox Cahn of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, told The New York Times. “It’s really a terrible message for kids.”

Cahn and others say that the elf is teaching kids the wrong thing when it comes to privacy and that the tradition normalizes surveillance by conditioning children to passively accept being watched at all times by an authority figure.

“No one should be looking at you in your bedroom without consent. There is a cost to normalizing surveillance, even in the most adorable ways,” Cahn claimed. “I don’t want to be the first one to take Santa Claus to court for invasion of privacy, but consent matters, and having privacy matters.”

In addition, adds, some psychologists have warned that the “Elf on the Shelf” promotes parents lying to their kids and thus subjects families to trust issues by encouraging kids to be gullible instead of critical thinkers.

But officials with the Lumistella Company, which owns “Elf on the Shelf,” dispute all of these arguments as nonsensical.

“Santa’s Scout Elves don’t just help to keep up with the Nice List; they also share with Santa how families are spreading the spirit of Christmas,” the company noted in a statement.

“Many children note that their favorite moments throughout each season include waking up to see where the family’s Scout Elf has landed and the humorous scenes they sometimes set up,” the statement continued. “Our hope is that the Elf on the Shelf will create cheerful holiday moments and precious family memories that will last a lifetime.”

Still, privacy advocates remain concerned.

“I know a lot of families just see this as a fun thing, but it’s worth thinking about the messages it’s giving to children about surveillance by authorities,” Jay Stanley, of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the Times.

“Personally, I consider success as a parent to be teaching my kids to do the right thing even when nobody is watching, whether they be from the North Pole or anywhere else. Maybe these are elves that should be left on store shelves,” Stanley added.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center also disapproves.

“If kids think they are always being watched, even when the watcher is a magical elf, that can have real effects on how they see themselves in the world,” EPIC’s Caitriona Fitzgerald told the paper. “Arguing children need to grow up knowing they have private spaces of their own where they can be independent.”

Jon Dougherty


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